Reflection #4: Real Estate

We often begin our meetings with a reflection which helps put our work in context and maybe even provides us with some hope and inspiration. 

The following reflection was read by our Secretary of Communications, Justin Alley, at our November 5th meeting.

Real Estate

by Amy Clampitt

Something there is that doesn’t
love a Third Avenue tenement,

that wants it gone the way the El
went. Façade a typical example

of red-brick eclectic, its five dozen
windows half now behind blank tin,

scrollwork lintels of strange parentage,
fire escapes’ curling-iron birdcage,

are an anomaly among high-rise elevators,
besieged by Urban Relocation (Not A

Governmental Agency). Holdout tenants
confer, gesticulating, by storefronts

adapted only to an anxious present—Le
Boudoir, Le Shampoo, Le Retro (if passé

is chic, is chic passé?). One gelded
pawnshop, until last week, still brooded,

harboring, among tag ends of pathos,
several thirty-year-old umbrellas.

Regularly twice a day, the lingering wraith
within stepped out to shake her dustcloth.

That’s done now. She advertised a sale.
Still nothing moved. Finally, a U-Haul

truck carted everything off somewhere.
Hail, real estate! Bravo, entrepreneur!

Clampitt provides this note to the poem:

“Urban Relocation (No A/ Governmental Agency)”: A private firm retained by the owners of tenement buildings intended for demolition but still inhabited, Urban Relocation had chosen a name of such bureaucratic portentousness that it was obliged to distinguish itself in this fashion.

I would also alert the reader to the allusion in the first few lines to Robert Frost’s famous poem “Mending Wall,” which begins:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Clampitt001bAmy Clampitt (1920 – 1994) was a truly great and yet underappreciated American poet. She was born and spent much of her life in New York, but she lived for a time in California. She was not published until relatively late in her life. The preceding poem is from her collection, What the Light Was Like, published in 1982, roughly in the middle of her attenuated writing career. Readers are very much encouraged to explore the rest of her beautiful oeuvre.


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